15 August 2019

Fluenz: ‘Don’t ask faith leaders for vaccine advice’

Health officials have backtracked over guidance encouraging parents “to seek advice from faith or other community leaders” before deciding whether their children can be vaccinated against flu.

Public Health England (PHE) made the suggestion after some Muslims raised concerns about the presence of pork gelatine in the Fluenz nasal spray, which will be offered from next month to children aged two to ten. It has now deleted this advice from its public information leaflets after the National Secular Society complained that it was “confusing and potentially harmful”.

Stephen Evans, the society’s chief executive, wrote to PHE saying: “Religious people are of course at liberty to consult religious leaders on any issue but they should not be directed to do so by a public health authority.”

.... “Now that awareness of the porcine gelatine issue is much more widespread we are updating our documents to make clear that PHE recommends using scientific evidence to help when deciding whether or not to vaccinate.” [The Times (£)] Read more

14 August 2019

Jailed Saudi activist 'told to deny torture in release deal'

Prominent Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying she was tortured in custody, her family has said.

"The Saudi state security has visited my sister in prison recently. They have asked her to ... appear on video to deny the torture and harassment," her brother Walid al-Hathloul said on Twitter on Tuesday. "That was part of a deal to release her."

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities.

Hathloul, who recently marked her 30th birthday in jail, is among around a dozen prominent female activists who are currently facing trial after being detained last year, just as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, for which many of the detainees had long campaigned. [Al Jazeera English] Read more

13 August 2019

Addressing Muslim Women, Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri Deems Western Battle Against Hijab To Be Part Of War On Islamic Ummah

On August 7, 2019, Al-Qaeda's Al-Sahab media wing released a video featuring a speech by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri titled "The Battle of the Hijab." In the video, Al-Zawahiri addresses Muslim women and warns them of the war raging against the Islamic nation that seeks to force them to abandon their religion and hijab ("head covering").

The 12-minute video, which is the fourth episode of his da'wa ("preaching, invitation") series, shows the Al-Qaeda leader in the usual setting, in what appears to be a studio, sitting behind a table on which a Quran is open. Al-Zawahiri begins by addressing "Muslim sisters," particularly those who wear the hijab, saying the current war rages against the Islamic ummah at all levels – militarily, politically, ideologically, culturally, educationally, or economically and others. He says: "The reason behind this war is the danger the Muslim ummah poses to the existence of the modern global system, which is controlled by the leading [international] criminals." [MEMRI] Read more

Jailed Saudi feminist refuses to deny torture to secure release

The prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying reports she was tortured in custody, her family said.

Hathloul was arrested more than a year ago with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, which many of the detainees had long campaigned for.

Some of the women appeared in court earlier this year to face charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats, but the trial has not convened in months.

The case has drawn global criticism and provoked anger in European capitals and the US Congress after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year.

Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault. [The Guardian] Read more

08 August 2019

Germany’s Muslims call for an Islamophobia commissioner

Germany’s Muslim community has called on the government to create a new government post to counter growing Islamophobia in the country.

Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, proposed on Wednesday appointment of an Islamophobia commissioner.

“We have seen the importance of such a post after the federal government appointed a commissioner to combat anti-Semitism,” he told Bild daily.

Mazyek underlined that the appointment of an Islamophobia commissioner would be an important signal, and authorities would become more sensitive about anti-Muslim crimes.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government created an office last year for a federal commissioner to fight against anti-Semitism, following calls by Jewish organizations. [Yeni Safak] Read more

07 August 2019

Boris Johnson’s racist comments would rule him out of joining police, UK counterterror chief says

Boris Johnson would be barred from joining the police because of his remarks describing black people as “piccaninnies” and comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes”, the UK’s most senior counterterror officer has said.

Asked whether someone would be allowed to join a police force if they had made the same comments, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu said: “No, they wouldn’t be recruited into policing.”

Mr Basu would not comment on the prime minister’s remarks directly but told The Guardian: “Every public figure who’s got a microphone and has got an opportunity to speak should take the opportunity to be bringing society together.

“The most important thing everybody should be aiming for is a socially cohesive, inclusive society … we should all be very careful about what we say publicly.” [The Independent] Read more

06 August 2019

Stacey Dooley’s Panorama about Islamic State brides should be shown in our schools, not vilified

Non-Muslim girls in Lincolnshire will soon be asked to wear a hijab for a day, to “raise awareness of discrimination”.

Ghada Mohamed of the Lincoln Muslim Sisters Forum says she came up with the idea in response to a number of incidents where girls wearing headscarfs were subjected to abuse.

Mrs Mohamed hopes secondary schools across the country will sign up and it will lead to “better understanding”.

I suppose the idea of Muslim girls removing their hijabs for a day to get a “better understanding” of how the majority of their fellow countrywomen live is out of the question? Or even asking Muslim boys to wear the hijab so they can experience what it’s like to always go around with your head covered and wonder how nice that actually is for girls?

No, I thought not. In my experience, Lincolnshire folk are a rather gentle, easy-going lot. “Aright, mi dook?” is the way everyone, regardless of creed, colour or gender, is greeted. But I can see why parents would resist their daughters taking part in a hijab day. [The Telegraph] Read more

British Muslims should not feel forced to assimilate, says top counter terrorism officer

British Muslims should not be forced to “assimilate”, the country’s most senior counter terrorism officer has said, as he called for greater understanding of marginalised communities.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who is the country’s highest ranking Asian officer, said that in a successful, integrated society, people should be free to practise their religion and culture openly rather than having to hide away.

He also said more needed to be done to eradicate poverty, improve education and increase social mobility if community cohesion was to be improved.

But he admitted Prevent, the Government’s flagship counter terrorism strategy, had been “badly handled” and warned it needed to be more community led if it was to be successful.

Mr Basu said it was no longer enough to rely on just the police and security services to win the fight against extremism and terrorism, explaining that wider society also had a role. [The Telegraph] Read more

Fighting for the Hidden Imam to reappear

Why are the Iranians so hostile to the West? Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Mohammad Mehdi Mirbagheri explains.

"We did not carry out a revolution in order to join the international community and accept liberal democracy. Why would we have had to sacrifice so many martyrs if we only wanted to join liberal democracy? Why would we have had to suffer such depravation? It has all been done to bring about the age of (the Hidden Imam's) reappearance." [Mick Hartley] Read more

Koran encyclopaedia hopes to promote peace

Extremists who take passages from the Koran out of context to justify violence will be challenged by an encyclopaedia published in the UK at the weekend — the first to re-order Koranic verses into themed chapters focusing on peace and women’s rights.

The work is written in English and has been described as a remarkable achievement, designed to show why Islam is described as a peaceful religion.

The Koran is written as it was “revealed” to the Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century. Its 114 chapters and more than 6,000 verses are not in thematic order. Readers wishing to understand Islam’s teaching on a topic may have to find references scattered throughout the Koran.

This creates the risk that verses mentioning violence can be taken out of context to claim that Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. Scholars have said such verses issued calls to arms for Muslims to defend themselves in wars waged against them 1,400 years ago but were not meant to justify violence generally and often appear with verses urging restraint. [The Times (£)] Read more

05 August 2019

Saudi Arabia women's rights reforms may still be thwarted by custom

Saudi officials have hailed as “historic” new rights granted to women in Saudi Arabia that further dismantle its heavily criticized guardianship system, but male relatives could still find ways to thwart these freedoms.

Thousands of Saudi women took to social media to celebrate royal decrees on Friday that allow women above 21 to travel without permission as of the end of August. Women also now have the right to register births, marriages and divorces, to be issued official family documents and be guardians to minors.

Experts, however, say male relatives can still obstruct women defying their wishes through legal avenues or informal routes in the ultra-conservative kingdom, where it will take time to change views on gender and social customs.

“We need enforcement of these laws and the establishment of reporting mechanisms when these policies are not being upheld, as well as watchdog organizations,” said Hala al-Dosari, a U.S.-based Saudi women’s rights expert. [Reuters] Read more

04 August 2019

Conservative Party chairman insists inquiry into Tory Islamophobia will go ahead

The Conservative Party is still planning to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in its ranks, party chairman James Cleverly has insisted.

Mr Cleverly said that Boris Johnson would fulfil his promise, made during the Tory leadership campaign, to order a formal inquiry.

The new prime minister was among several of the then leadership candidates to commit to a probe following a series of reports about Tory members making anti-Muslim comments.

He has faced questions since taking office about when the inquiry will be announced. The probe was initially suggested by Sajid Javid, who is now the chancellor.

Asked if there was still going to be an investigation, Mr Cleverly told Sky News programme Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Yes there will be.” [The Independent] Read more

Lincolnshire non-Muslim girls asked to wear hijab for a day

Non-Muslim girls in Lincolnshire are being asked to wear a hijab for a day to raise awareness of discrimination.

Ghada Mohamed said she came up with the idea in response to a number of incidents where girls wearing hijabs were subjected to abuse.

The campaigner, who is a member of the Lincoln Muslim Sisters Forum, said it would lead to better understanding.

She hopes secondary schools across the county will sign up.

Talking about the abuse some girls have faced, Mrs Mohamed said: "If they have been attacked or abused it's not because other children are bad.

"It's just because they don't have the knowledge."

The hijab day, to be held in November, will help non-Muslim children learn more about what it is like to wear a hijab, and the reasons behind it, she said. [BBC] Read more

Long jail sentences for women defying compulsory hijab in Iran

There’s been very little coverage of this story in the media, even though the sentences are horrifyingly harsh. Three women, Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Aryani, and Mojgan Keshavarz, have given prison terms amounting to over 55 years between them for the crime of ‘disrespecting compulsory hijab’. Although it would be difficult to describe any trial for such as a ‘crime’ as fair, the women were denied even the most basic legal support, as the Jerusalem Post reports.

All the women did was discard their headscarves, distribute flowers to other women on the metro, and share their views about women’s rights. It’s more depressing than surprising to note that most coverage of this profound injustice is coming from commentators preoccupied with Islam (such as Pamela Geller) rather than from those who purport to defend liberal values and freedoms more broadly. [Harry’s Place] Read more

Tory chairman James Cleverly confirms party will hold Islamophobia inquiry

The intervention comes amid pressure on Boris Johnson to commit to an inquiry after he was accused of watering down his stance on the issue during the Tory leadership contest.

Mr Johnson agreed to launch a probe into anti-Muslim hate on a TV debate in June, but later appeared to backtrack when he vowed to bring forward “an inquiry into every manner of prejudice within the party”

When asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, whether there would be an inquiry into Islamophobia, Mr Cleverly said: “There will be…

"One of the things that we need to get is the definition of that and so specifically on that point we will guided by the formal definition of Islamophobia.

"But the point is we do and will always take firm action with anyone who steps outside the boundaries of appropriate behaviour.”

Mr Cleverly’s intervention came a week after Government frontbencher Rishi Sunak refused to confirm that a probe would go ahead and insisted that it was “a question for the brand new party chairman”.

Calls for a probe were ramped up in July after a poll by Hope Not Hate found that 54% of Conservative Party members believe that Islam is “generally a threat to the British way of life”. [PoliticsHome] Read more

Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ on Islamophobia

.... I found a segment which took in all these topics on Radio 4’s Sunday programme very frustrating. Its starting point was a recent poll which found that nearly half of people in the UK think Islam is incompatible with British values; the two guests were Khalil Yousuf and Miqdaad Versi.

The inclusion of a more dissenting voice – maybe Maajid Nawaz or Amina Lone – would have forced both men to grapple more directly with the reasons for those poll results. The conversation might have been more challenging for them – but could have been used to demonstrate the complexities which those most hostile to Islam may not acknowledge. For as things stood, this feature would have done nothing to shift the views of an Islamosceptic listener.

Yousef is an Ahmadi Muslim, and this was the first elephant in the room. The Ahmadi are targets of sectarian bigotry and persecution, and the MCB, of which Miqdaad Versi is the assistant secretary general, has been criticised for refusing to recognize them as Muslims.

.... By asserting that ‘Islam has nothing to do with extremism’ Yousuf effectively cut off what could have been a more useful – if less comfortable– conversation, one which acknowledged that there is a clear tradition of interpreting Islam in ways which could (certainly) be characterised as extreme, but also countervailing traditions and more liberal readings. Because the guests were silent on these issues, hostile listeners would have filled in the gaps for themselves and felt their prejudices were confirmed. [Harry’s Place] Read more

02 August 2019

Iranian women defy threat of decade-long jail sentence by taking photos of themselves without headscarves

Iranian women are sharing videos of themselves removing their headscarves in public, despite a recent ruling they could face 10 years in jail for doing so.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and prominent activist based in the US, started a social media campaign in 2014 encouraging women in Iran to share self-portraits without the Islamic veil, which she then goes on to share on her Facebook page called “My Stealthy Freedom”.

Ms Alinejad said campaigners had carried on sending her pictures and videos even after Tehran’s Revolutionary Court ruled they could face up to 10 years in prison on Monday. [Microsoft News] Read more

German conservatives renew calls for a burqa ban

As the neighboring Netherlands begins policing the wearing of burqas, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) are calling for a burqa ban of Germany's own. Julia Klöckner, who leads the provincial Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the party and is the No. 2 Christian Democrat nationally, said Germany should enshrine a dress code for Muslim women in order to help protect their dignity.

"It's not about a piece of fabric, but about the entire gender image that is expressed through it," Klöckner, also the agriculture minister in Merkel's government, told the Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) in an article published Friday. "Our Basic Law is totally clear," Klöckner added. "Men and women have equal value and equal rights."

Though a burqa ban would be constitutionally tricky, CDU colleagues joined Klöckner, who was once tapped as a potential successor to Merkel, in calling for a burqa ban. "The burqa does not belong to Germany," said Thorsten Frei, the vice chairman of the CDU's parliamentary group in the Bundestag. "It decidedly contradicts our values and image of humanity." [Deutsche Welle] Read more

11 people publicly caned for getting too close to the opposite sex in Indonesia

One woman begged for mercy and another sobbed uncontrollably as Indonesia’s Aceh province flogged nearly a dozen people on Thursday, including a Buddhist man charged with breaking local Islamic law.

Despite widespread criticism, public whipping is a common punishment for a range of offences in the deeply conservative region at the tip of Sumatra island, including gambling, drinking alcohol and having gay sex or relations outside of marriage.

Aceh is the only region in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country that imposes Islamic law.

On Thursday, dozens watched as 11 people were whipped outside a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

A masked sharia officer rained down between eight and 32 strokes from a rattan cane on their backs after they were caught with members of the opposite sex.

The six men and five women — all in their late teens and early 20s — were rounded up by religious officers who caught them behaving amorously, a crime under local law. [news.com.au] Read more

Saudi Arabia allows women to travel without male guardian's approval

Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer need the permission of a male guardian to travel, according to laws published on Friday, in a key step towards dismantling controls that have made women second-class citizens in their own country.

Other changes issued in the decrees allow women to apply for passports, register a marriage, divorce or child’s birth and be issued official family documents. It also stipulates that a father or mother can be legal guardians of children.

Being able to obtain family documents could ease hurdles women faced in obtaining a national identity card and enrolling their children in school.

Still in place, however, are rules that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry. Women, unlike men, still cannot pass on citizenship to their children and cannot provide consent for their children to marry.

Under the kingdom’s guardianship system, women essentially rely on the “goodwill” and whims of male relatives to determine the course of their lives. [The Guardian] Read more

Half Of Brits Think Islam Is Incompatible With UK Values, Survey Finds

Islam is “misunderstood” in the UK with nearly half of adults feeling the religion is “incompatible” with British values, a survey suggests.

Results of the poll carried out on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community also indicate almost a third of adults think Islam encourages Muslims to carry out acts of violence against non-Muslims.

The news comes as the country’s largest Muslim convention, the Jalsa Salana, is set to take place on Friday in Hampshire with more than 30,000 people expected to attend.

he survey said it questioned 2,077 UK adults of various ages and genders living in different regions of the country between July 12 and 14 to gather the results, which suggest:

Most of the adults questioned, 58%, believe Islamophobia is widespread in the UK.

Nearly half, 48%, believe Islam is incompatible with British values.

Almost a third, 29%, think Islam encourages Muslims to carry out acts of violence against non-Muslims.

Two thirds, 67%, of the public agree most people in the UK have a negative view of Islam. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

Nearly half of UK adults think Islam is ‘incompatible’ with British values

Almost a third of UK adults think Islam encourages Muslims to carry out acts of violence against non-Muslims, a survey suggests. It found nearly half (48 per cent) think the religion is ‘incompatible’ with British values.

The poll, which questioned 2,077 people of different ages, genders and regions, showed how ‘misunderstood’ the religion is in the UK, said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Two thirds (67 per cent) of the public agreed most Brits have a negative view of Islam, while 58 per cent believe Islamophobia is widespread in the UK. The results come as the country’s largest Muslim convention, the Jalsa Salana, will take place on Friday in Hampshire with more than 30,000 expected to attend. [Metro.co.uk] Read more

01 August 2019

Iran: Prisoner of conscience flogged 100 times for ‘drinking alcohol and insulting Islam’

The flogging of Kurdish singer and prisoner of conscience Peyman Mirzazadeh 100 times demonstrates the shocking brutality of Iran’s justice system, said Amnesty International.

Peyman Mirzazadeh had been sentenced to two years in prison and 100 lashes after being convicted of “drinking alcohol” and “insulting Islamic sanctities”. The flogging was carried out on 28 July and left him in agonizing pain with a severely swollen back and legs. He is currently on hunger strike in protest at his treatment and sentence.

“It is appalling that Peyman Mirzazadeh was subjected to such an unspeakably cruel punishment. His flogging highlights the inhumanity of a justice system that legalizes brutality. He is a prisoner of conscience detained merely for exercising his freedom of expression and the Iranian authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. [Amnesty International] Read more

Burqa ban descends into farce on first day after Dutch police refuse to enforce it

The Netherlands’s new ban on burqas has been fatally undermined on its very first day of operation after the police indicated they would not seriously try to enforce it.

The new law prohibits wearing anything which covers the face - including burqas, ski masks or motorcycle helmets - in public settings such as schools, hospitals, trains or buses.

Anyone who does enter one of these places with a burqa will be told to remove it or be fined between €150 and €415 (£136 - £378).

The legislation only extends to public buildings and transport and there is no ban on covering the face in the street.

But the law has been rendered largely pointless even on its first day after it emerged no-one wanted to actually enforce it.

The police have let it be known they do not consider stopping women wearing burqas a priority, and are concerned it will stop some people from coming into police stations to report crime.

Then, an umbrella organisation of transport companies said their bus conductors and train drivers will not try to enforce the law, especially as the police will not back them up should they need it. [The Independent] Read more

Dutch 'burqa ban' rendered largely unworkable on first day

The Netherlands’ so-called burqa ban has been rendered largely unworkable on its first day in law after both the police and Dutch transport companies signalled an unwillingness to enforce it.

Under the terms of the Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act, the wearing of ski masks, full-face helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and burqas is prohibited in public buildings including schools and hospitals and on public transport.

Wearers of the banned clothing are to be given the option to remove the offending item or face a police fine of between €150 and €415. There is no prohibition on wearing such garments in the street.

But the law appears to have been fatally undermined after police said its enforcement was not a priority and signalled their discomfort with the idea that veiled women could be put off from entering a police station to make unrelated complaints.

Transport companies said in a response to the police position that they would not ask their staff on trains, metros, trams or buses to take on an enforcement role in the absence of officers. [The Guardian] Read more